What are some drawbacks of India’s Sukhoi Su-30MKI fighter aircraft?
Sukhoi 30mki is a super-maneuverable twin-jet air superiority fighter developed by Russia’s Sukhoi and built under licence by India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) for the Indian Air Force(IAF). The Su-30MKI development was started in 1995 by Sukhoi Corporation and manufactured at Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), Nasik, Maharashtra production line . It is derived from the Su-27 Flanker, it is a heavy, all-weather, long-range fighter. It has close coupled canards with Thrust Vectoring, gives a deadliest combination.
Currently this fighter is the only most modern and advance fighter jet of IAF (Indian Air-force), this fighter was introduced in Indian Air-force on 27 Sept 2002. Till 2017 total 240 fighter produced in total and one fighter jet in building cost 358 crore rupees. First Su-30mki produced by Russia in 2002 and Air-force accepted that. What about Indian version, first Su-30mki which assembled by HAL in 2004. Earlier Air-force ordered 240 fighter, but recently due to lack of fighter jet and more trust on su-30mki, Air-force increase its order from 240 to 314 in total number. No new fighter jet (double engine) coming to IAF in near future, so Su-30mki will be the backbone of Air-force until a new Fighter come to IAF.
Every fighter jet has some pros and cons. Even the world’s most advanced fighter, F-22, doesn’t feature Helmet Mounted Display & Sight (HMDS). So Su-30MKI too feature some flaws. I have some information on flaws of Su-30MKI. Before I start, let me clarify that I am not playing with national security, every info is available in public domain.
Problems with Su-30MKI
01. Lack of Missile Approach Warning System (MAWS)
As the name suggests, MAWS detect the incoming missiles and alerts the pilot about the the threat. Also, it detects the type of missile, which helps in dispensing appropriate countermeasures while performing the defensive manuevers. Without MAWS, Su-30MKI need to rely on jammers, RWR, Early Warning (EW) control systems for survival against incoming missiles. But MAWS is necessary as it allows detection of missiles and their direction so that appropriate manuevers can be performed and countermeasues can be released in time. MAWS is also most effective heat seeker missiles, that does not use radar for guidance.
Over the years several radar warners and electronic warfare systems such as TEMPEST, TARANG and RWR-118 have been developed and inducted successfully by the IAF. IR based MAWS based on the dual colour concept has been developed by DARE for fighter aircraft and currently is being integrated into Su-30 MKI aircraft.However there is no integral MAWS in Su-30 mki
FYI, PAF F-16 and JF-17 are equipped with MAWS.
02. High Band Jammer issues
Su-30 mki has Made-in-Russia high band jammer called SAP-518, and capable of jamming radar guided missiles and other RF equipments. Su-30MKI is rarely spotted with this jammer and there are some serious problems with it.
After grappling for years with the pod, the Indian Air Force finally in 2015 realised it simply couldn’t use them for two reasons. One, they were heavy — and when slung onto wingtip hardpoints, they cut into flying envelope like a butcher’s knife.
‘With the Russian pods, the Sukhoi is basically a transport aircraft,’ one of the scientists says.
The second issue is even worse. The IAF realised the SAP-518 pod hadn’t been properly interfacing with the indigenous on-board radar warning receiver (RWR), therefore killing pilots’ chances to exploit both systems fully. While the reasons why the IAF took their time remains unclear (but at one level understandable).
Defence Avionics & Research Establishment (DARE) is developing an indigenous High Band Jammer (HBJ) and it will be in service very soon. DARE’s High Band Jammer (HBJ) has begun dummy trials from 2019.
Incidentally, the indigenous DARE RWR on the IAF’s Su-30MKIs will also be replaced soon. The lab is in final testing of an all digital RWR (the existing system is analog) christened ‘Dhruti’ that will begin ground testing in May this year, followed by a phased installation across the fleet.
03. Engine problems
Sukhoi Su-30MKI features AL-31FP engines with 3D Thrust Vector Control (TVC) ability. But the problem it doesn’t perform according to the official claims made by the manufacturer. Due to Indian climate, it faces various failures even in mid-air. Between 2014 to 2018, there were 34 cases in which the aircraft was forced to land with single engine due to mid-air failure. This is the reason why Super Sukhoi upgrade also focuses on engine replacement, in which AL-31 will be replaced by AL-41.
04. Spare parts management
Not only India, most of the countries face logistics issue while using Russian origin fighter aircrafts. It is due to the fact that after the Russian revolution, Russia faced a great economic depression and no more concentrated on power projection doctrine. Therefore, Mikoyan Gurevich (MiG) and Sukhoi don’t recieve major orders (ofcourse, exceptions are Su-35 and Su-30), so they are financially weak. Sukhoi is little better than MiG because it has customers in modern time. Recently Myanmar started recieving Su-30SMs and Algeria ordered Su-35s, and also in talks to acquire Su-57. Also, Russia is going to induct 70+ Su-57s in future. On the other hand, Mikoyan Gurevich failed to impress any customer with it’s latest MiG-35. And their only hope is India and it’s Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MRCA) program. So overall, both companies are financially weak and cannot peovide spare parts on time, leading to grounding of aircrafts and the reault is only 60-65% of Su-30s are operational at the moment. [50-55% is 2 years old report] This can be solved by gaining complete ToT with rights to produce critical components that is really hard.
05. Weapon integration approval problems
Not only Su-30, but every imported fighter jet of IAF face this problem. IAF needs approval of original manufacturer before integrating any new system in the platform. That is the reasom why Meteor (MBDA denied) and ASRAAM (Sukhoi denied) integrations were blocked because you know, relation between NATO and Russia is not good.
Good thing is that recent test of MICA indicates that Indian Air Force may be managing to convince France to allow integration of MICA. Whether it’s MICA RF or MICA IR. Both needs to be linked with mission computer through source codes. So the manufacturer has to provide the codes to the user that makes integration possible.
The above are the 5 critical problems in Su-30MKI that I can mention. I removed the section of radio because it is present through whole IAF fleet. But very soon going to be fixed with the integration of SDRs.